On April 24, 2023, I finished the AWS certification marathon of passing one AWS certification exam per month (“the certification marathon”).
This blog post outlines the lessons learned from this journey and expands on the previously published successful blog post On AWS Certifications.
Lesson #01 – Certification marathon is a journey
While having all AWS certification badges on your Credly account certainly does look impressive, what really matters is what you can achieve with the acquired knowledge and skills. As Ralph Waldo Emmerson said, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.
Successful certification marathon positively changes your life:
- It provides an overview of all important technologies in the AWS ecosystem available at the time of the exam and how they relate to each other and thus equips you with the confidence necessary to effectively use AWS.
This broad knowledge of what is possible is priceless – while you can always look up the details, you must know what to look up first – and in my view, certification is the most effective way to obtain such broad knowledge.
Furthermore, this knowledge does translate to measurable cost savings – the difference between optimal technology choice and a not-optimal technology choice can be limitless.
- Certification does change the way AWS and other vendors treat you – it does supply you with utmost credibility.
Lesson #02 – How to interpret other people’s successful certification marathon
- The certification does provide a guarantee of minimum knowledge in every tested area.
- Successful certification does indicate superior problem-solving, time-management, and knowledge-management skills. You cannot ever pass without knowing how to identify reliable sources of information, how to deal with ambiguity and false advice (all certification preparation materials contain mistakes).
- The certification becomes obsolete on the day one passes it – one needs to keep learning non-stop and having embarked on this journey indicates the person has already committed to this learning process.
Lesson #03 – The nature of the certification exams
The exams are designed to assess high-level practical knowledge of key concepts in each domain, and the related keywords.
Be able to compare & contrast the functionality, performance, pricing factors and limits of all related technologies.
- Know when to use EBS / EFS / S3 / FSx / Storage Gateway.
- Be aware that AWS Lambda functions have certain limits, such as up to 10 GB RAM or runtime of up to 15 mins. Nevertheless, AWS Batch does not have any such limit, so use AWS Lambda whenever you can and if not, switch to AWS Batch.
- Storing queues in RDS certainly does not provide performance of SQS
- Kafka, rather than Kinesis, delivers superior performance at the cost of extra manual set up. However, for ultra-low latency streaming data, such as financial market data, even Kafka is not sufficient.
Pricing Factors Examples:
- Storing millions of small files (<256 kB) in S3 would be prohibitively expensive since S3 is charged by the number of API calls. However, storing these small files in DynamoDB would be cost-effective.
- Storing data used just for archiving in S3 Standard storage would be prohibitively expensive while S3 Glacier Deep Archive is one of the cheapest solutions.
You may be dismissive of potentially irrelevant exams such as “SAP on AWS – Specialty” if you have never used SAP. However, SAP is a high-performance in-memory database, and the exam covers best practices on how to implement any such database on AWS.
Lesson #04 – Optimal Preparation Strategy
- Whenever there is an AWS published preparation book, read it.
- Take all AWS official practice exams.
- Any material published more than a year ago is of limited applicability since the exams are continuously refreshed.
- Cloud Academy or Cloud Guru video lessons are useful only for Foundational or Associate level exams – professional level exams are far more about awareness of keywords associated with covered technologies. For professional level exams, nevertheless, use the Cloud Academy and Cloud Guru’s test banks / exams.
- You need to activate your passive knowledge to master connections between related concepts and to calibrate your professional judgment. In my experience, the best way to do it is to answer thousands of questions in test banks and to note down problematic areas for a deep dive.
Extensive use of test banks is a frequent practice for all other difficult certifications, such as the CFA certifications.
- Use as many different test banks as possible since each author provides a unique perspective on the tested topics.
- Practical knowledge of covered technologies is only useful if the practical knowledge is based upon the best practices. If you have used AWS wrongly, such knowledge is useless.
Lesson #05 – Optimal Test Question Answering Strategy
- The questions have a single-choice answer or multiple-choice answers. Therefore, first, eliminate obviously wrong answers and use logical reasoning / intuition / general principles of cloud computing to find the correct answer.
- AWS understands certain questions are ambiguous and thus the only grade is Pass / Fail with Pass grade having comfortable margin for ambiguous questions. In addition, each exam has fifteen out of seventy-five questions which are not graded and are used purely for research purposes – you will not know which ones are these, however.
- AWS understands certain questions may have multiple correct answers and if the question asks for only one answer, then the criteria for correctness are
- simplicity – architectures with one building block are preferred to architectures with multiple building blocks
- managed services are always preferred – the point of using AWS is to offload routine system management tasks to AWS
- costs – the solution which is most cost-effective is always preferred
Lesson #∞ – There is no official AWS Golden Jacket though there are unofficial ones
Many people on the Internet boast about them having received an AWS Golden Jacket for having passed all twelve AWS Certification exams.
However, as re-confirmed with AWS: the golden jacket has never been an official part of the AWS certification process. Some AWS teams have made their own for employees, and some people have made the gold jacket on their own. But there is no official path for anyone to get one.
I personally find the lack of an official token of appreciation for such a large achievement disappointing.